On Thursday night, a special meeting of the Planning Commission to review the plan to locate the Columbia-Greene Partnership Academy, a.k.a. "the Bridge," on a significant corner of Hudson's main street, drew a standing room only crowd. The Planning Commission, guided through the process by city attorney Cheryl Roberts, heard first from Joe Catalano, attorney for the Lantern Organization and now presumably also for the Galvan Initiatives Foundation. He began by explaining that all the students (a maximum of sixty) and half the teachers (six) would arrive on a single bus from Hudson High School every morning at 8 and depart on a single bus every afternoon at 3. Later, he modified that to say that a second bus from Catskill would be arriving and departing each day. Catalano assured the commission that there would be "minimum use outside the building" and instruction would take place "behind closed doors"--including "modified PE," which Bruce Potter, superintendent of the Berkshire Union Free School District, a partner in this endeavor, explained involved such things as weaving and "literature-based assignments about exercise."
Correction: I've been told that Potter did not say weaving but rather Wii Games, which are video games that involve the player or players standing and playing sports against virtual opponents.
The Planning Commission's review of this project needs to be expedited because, if the building is to be used for the alternative learning program, it must be ready for students by September 4. According to Catalano, the developers "only recently" learned that a site plan review was required in order to get a building permit. According to all accounts, no one in city government knew anything about this plan until July 22, so whose fault is it that they are running out of time?
Catalano asked the Planning Commission to authorize a building permit "at our own risk," meaning presumably that if the site plan was not approved by the Planning Commission, any work on the building done in the interim would be for naught. Roberts advised the commission that this would be illegal and told Catalano, "You've gone to the state legislature [to get enabling legislation passed]. This has been in the works for a while, but the Planning Commission has only just received [the application]."
According to Catalano, the work being done at the building now is all interior demolition. A demolition permit was applied for--by Rick Scalera, special adviser to the Galvan Foundation, whose signature appears on the document--and issued on the same day: July 23.
At the beginning of the meeting, Planning Commission chair Don Tillson explained that site plan review was limited to such things as lighting, parking, access and egress. After some discussion, the Planning Commission agreed to impose some conditions on the project:
- Site plan approval would be for only two years. Since the project is described as a "two-year commitment," and there is a two-year lease with Galvan, were it to continue beyond the two years, it would have to come before the Planning Commission again for review.
- The arrival and departure of students will be supervised. This condition is intended to prevent students from hanging out around the school and loitering in the neighborhood.
- There will be only one bus from Hudson High School and one bus from Catskill arriving and departing each day. According to HCSD superintendent Maria Suttmeier, "we already stop buses on Warren Street," so having two buses stop to discharge or pick up thirty or so students each won't be any different from what already happens.
- Faculty and staff of the school will not park on Warren Street and take parking spaces away from the customers of retail businesses. Planning Commission member Cappy Pierro helpfully suggested that they could park in the vacant lot, owned by the City, at Fourth and State streets, but Roberts pointed out that probably wasn't an option since "you're thinking of selling that lot."
When the question was posed of whether or not the project needed a public hearing, Pierro opined, "I think no, because we want to expedite this as much as we can." In spite of the fact that the room was filled to overflowing with people clearly interested in the outcome and just before the meeting Tillson had been handed a sheaf of written comments from Warren Street business owners who were unable attend, which he acknowledged and said would be "taken into consideration," commission members Gail Grandinetti, Claudia DeStefano, and Glenn Martin agreed that they didn't think a public hearing was necessary.
Meanwhile, just down the street, seven retail businesses were celebrating the opening of three new shops and the relocation of one in their midst. The festive mood was diminished only slightly by the presence of a few stunned and disaffected people who had come to the Sunset Soiree straight from City Hall.
Can it be imagined that the revitalization of Hudson has gained so much momentum that it is a juggernaut--unstoppable and able to survive unscathed plans and decisions that don't take into consideration the interests of the city's main street businesses? That seems like a reckless assumption no municipality should make.
COPYRIGHT 2013 CAROLE OSTERINK